G is for – I was a soldier in Gaza (A to Z challenge still going strong.)

netta pic instagram.jpg

It isn’t easy being an Israeli. One minute you are winning the Eurovision song festival, and the next minute you are fighting off Palestinians at the Gaza fence. I try so hard to avoid politics, but at times, you just can’t sit on the fence – especially the fence near Gaza – so here goes my take on Gaza, Jerusalem and the right to a peaceful existence.

Why did I study in Jerusalem?

Today I was asked, “Why did you actually go to study in Jerusalem?” Well, yes, I did study at the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, in Jerusalem, and I lived peacefully in the student dorms together with Arab students where we shared cake recipes but not much else.

My boyfriend at the time was arrested after throwing a yogurt at Meir Kahane, an extreme right wing politician, when he came to talk at our campus. I made friends with a Palestinian who lived in East Jerusalem, when he used to come to visit my sister’s flat mate. I made friends with people from all over Israel, who had all come to study in Jerusalem, for a variety of reasons.

For me, it was far enough from home that I could move out. And I wanted to study English literature and Political Science. The campus appealed to me, as did the program. I got to study under a wonderful left-wing politician, Naomi Hazan, who knew all our names, and the brilliant Professor Bilsky, who encouraged my love of philosophy.

A divided city

When I lived in Jerusalem, the city was divided. For me, it was divided into three:

  • Religious Jews who dressed funny and spoke Yiddish, even the children. They would never look at me – a girl dressed in shorts and eating non-kosher food.
  • The second group was the Arab population. I would see them mostly in the Old City, or on campus where lots of ambitious students from East Jerusalem and all over Israel would come to study,
  • The third group were the Students. We were all over the place, taking over the city, renting dorm rooms and then leaky roofed rooms next to the market. We went to the theatre and to the Tea Room under the theatre, we drove scooters up and down the hills of Jerusalem and went on picnics and sat on the steps in Yamin Moshe above the concert grounds so we could hear the music for free.

Why live in a divided city?

Back to the question of “Why did I study in a city so full of conflict?” If Jewish Israelis decided to live only where there was no conflict, or no question of original land ownership, then I’m pretty sure the State of Israel would be devoid of all Jews.

I was a soldier in Gaza.

Now I know that a few of my readers might unfollow me, but hear me out. Every girl in Israel does military service. I had been in Israel for 3 years only (having arrived just a few months before my 15th birthday) when I was obliged to join the army at the age of 18.

After 6 weeks of basic training where I ran around a lot, learned to march in formation, learned to load and shoot a rifle at a target, put on a gas mask, and do basic first aid, I joined what all girls call, “The crying line-up.” On the last day of basic training, you get your posting. If you’re lucky (and rumor is that being beautiful helps), then you get to go to a cushy job in the air force or the navy. If you’re unlucky, you get a boring desk job in some godforsaken base in the middle of nowhere. (And CRY!)

And if you, like me, hardly speak any Hebrew and ‘somehow forgot’ to tell them that you know how to type, then you get placed at a special job, and in my case, that was at the Army Spokesman’s office in Gaza.

We lived on the base, which was a part of the military prison, and my job was to work for the Army Spokesman, who had to report to the Red Cross about which prisoners were in jail and how they were doing. I’m sure there was more to the job, but not much more that I remember.

Memories of Gaza

Instead, I remember these things:

  • Seeing a prisoner once on a concrete floor in a darkened cell.
  • Going for a ride around Gaza with my commanding officer and the Druze officer, and drinking sweet tea and warm Sahlab from a street vendor.
  • Drinking sweet prayer wine with the other soldiers on Friday night and getting drunk.
  • Refusing to do my turn at frisking women who visit the prison by faking being sick that day.
  • Hitchhiking rides into Gaza with military jeeps.
  • Wondering if a grenade would be thrown into our jeep.
  • Rehearsing what we knew – either one person has to throw himself on the grenade to save the others – or be brave enough to grab it and throw it out of the jeep.
  • My friend being traumatized when the jeep in front of her blew up.
  • The same friend getting married at 18 to avoid having to stay in the army.
  • Asking my boss why all this was happening and he explained that the violence wasn’t just against us, but sometimes that a person would hide weapons in an enemy’s house, and then call the military to snitch on them.
  • Asking about the new, unoccupied flats built by UNRWA, and being told that the Palestinian leadership preferred the people to stay in refugee camps where they could stay unhappy and fight ‘the good fight.’
  • Understanding that it is all very complicated and there is hardly any right or wrong side.

After 6 months in Gaza, I was allowed to go to officer’s training, in a safer location in the center of Israel.

Back to today

It’s a sad day to be a Palestinian on Land Day, the day that Israel became an Independent country, but it’s been difficult for them since long before we ‘conquered’ the Gaza strip (which we no longer occupy). The Egyptians had Gaza before us, and they too gave no rights and no passports to the people living there. The leadership may or may not be helpful to the people, by putting them up in their tens of thousands against the might of the Israeli army and telling them to re-conquer Israel at any cost.

I want so much for a peaceful solution to be found, so both Palestinians and Jews can find an existence of respect for each other in this troubled land.

I pray for the souls of people who died today, fighting for their beliefs.

And, cowardly or not, I live abroad, where I can say what I want, but avoid having to face the difficult decisions that my friends and family back home deal with every day.

I pray for them too, to get home safely and to live in peace, too.


F is for Facing Fears and Fabulous Students (A-Z challenge continues!)

Short sorry…

So, I took a few days break from blogging and felt rather guilty about it, but as guilt is my middle name, I have taken some deep breaths and ‘dealt with it’ since the May vacation is over and work awaits, and there’s only so much procrastination one can do and get away with it. So, work has done in the past couple of days and I left my writing on the shelf. Actually, to be 100% honest, I did write something (else) for the letter F – in handwriting, in the notebook next to my bed –  a piece of fiction! An excerpt from my upcoming book (yes, the one that’s still in the works), but instead, as it’s already a quarter past midnight and work awaits tomorrow yet again, I decided on a shorter blog for tonight.

amsib pic

When the penny drops

Today at school – where I coach students – I encountered a wonderful example of how self development workshops and communication skills can come together and become a thing of beauty. And I say this, because often, when teaching these topics, to 1st year students, it seems as if they really aren’t interested and that they know best, and ‘please don’t try to change or improve me.’

Student Companies in Action!

Let me give you some context. This semester, I have been coaching students in a course called “Co-creative Entrepreneurship” (a mouthful, I know…). The students form their own company, with real investments, start up their own sales of products or services – and run their company for a semester.  Each company has about 14 people in it. As you can imagine – this is a great way for them to learn by doing. And not only to learn about how to run a business (orders that arrive late, websites that crash etc.), but also to learn how to work together as a team. Or not.

Each week the companies hold an official meeting, where I get to sit in, together with a 2nd year student coach, and we observe and sometimes answer questions or help the students out when needed.

Uh oh! Feedback time!

Today, the HR manager of the student company, very hesitantly and gently, says to the CEO (these are first year university students), “You know, it’s great what you have been doing, and that you have all these creative ideas, but…”

And then she went on to explain very gently how he needs to let go a bit more, and delegate, and let his team do their work.

And I watched these students, some of them not yet 18, listen to each other, take a breath, accept the feedback, respond non-defensively and try to figure out the best way forward.

They had learned what their Personal Development teacher taught them last semester: Be self reflective, listen in order to understand, give feedback gently and carefully. Accept feedback graciously, even when you don’t always love what you are hearing.

I watched, as one of the young women involved listened with a tear glistening in the corner of her eye, but she didn’t cry, and she just nodded and said finally, “I think we worked it out yesterday when we talked on the phone.”

And the CEO said, “Yes, I was told not to use the word ‘vibe’ but to describe exactly what it is in the design work that I like or don’t like – such as color, or fonts.”

I tell you, it was FABULOUS to see!

Facing Fears

And the fear part? After the meeting, my student assistant and I talked briefly to the HR manager who said, “Was I okay? Not too harsh? I was shaking like a leaf!” I almost wanted to hug her, for how she had overcome her fears, and managed to verbalize the issues – face to face – with the group – to help the students discuss things in person, and make this conflict manageable.

At this point, I’m very happy that the students were so capable! I’m sure that, after this, their company will soar even further! I can’t wait to see how high they will fly!

E is for Education – A – Z challenge accepted!

education planning
working from home…

So, here I am, on a Saturday afternoon, towards the end of my May vacation, with Magic Charts stuck up on my kitchen windows and sitting behind my laptop, working on the planning for next year.

Education is such a broad term. I studied to become a teacher many years ago, at the Hebrew University, in Jerusalem (close to where Giro d’Italia 2018 started off yesterday!), and here I am, over 30 years later, having worked in both business (doing marketing) and counseling (helping people) and now I find myself planning the new course for Personal Development for next year.

I love to teach, at least now I do.

When I started, back in the day, as a 24 year old teacher trying to work with pupils mid-adolescence, I swore I’d never, but never ever teach again! Those brats just ran circles around me. I figured: why work so hard, for so little money and suffer so much?

  • Nowadays, things are different. My kids are the ages of the university students I teach, so guess what? They don’t scare me anymore!
  • Secondly, this is the Netherlands. And yes, it’s true that the Dutch are very ‘direct’ (you can say rude, but I can’t – that would be rude, right?), but on the whole, these kids are a lot easier to manage than a class of 12 year old Jerusalemites.
  • I get to teach the subjects I love – both Marketing and Personal Development.
  • And I get to decide what to teach and how to teach it too! I’m using my creative skills and loving that.
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m not a teacher, but an actor, on a stage. When all eyes are on me, instead of their smart phones, and some students even nod in agreement, or raise their hands to raise an issue and enter into a lively discussion, I feel I’m in my element and the magic is happening!

What I love less:

  • The never ending ‘to do’ list. Although, I have to admit, that with every single job I’ve had, I’ve always had more to do in a day than the hours of the day allow.
  • The grading. Ugh. It’s so hard to grade students when all you want to do is encourage them!
  • The emailing. I didn’t go into education in order to become a customer service manager. I’m really tired of opening up my email box to see all those mails! Actually, I wrote about my allergy to emails in another blog.
  • The admin. And by that I mean all the extras that come with the job. From entering grades into the system, to posting info online, and organizing stuff that has to be done (let’s just say that I’m more of a creative person than an organizer).

All in all, I have a job that fulfils me, gives me a sense of purpose and one where I can use my many talents.

I am grateful!

D is for Disaster in Paradise – (A – Z challenge)

house rules

Spa Zuiver – Paradise or Dictatorship?

In a way, I don’t want to ruin the really fun time we had with our friends yesterday, at ‘bathing suit day’ at the Spa. But it all started with the email they got in Dutch. In fact, when I asked them about the email, my friend told me, “It was actually more like 6 emails, but I used Google translate, and it looked like a nice place, so, we still booked it.”

By the way, do you see the picture above? House rules? This page is empty! Check it out for yourself, if you don’t believe me!

Well, here’s a list of things that went wrong on our visit to the Spa, with our friends who stayed at the hotel there and booked a spa day with massages for us all.

  1. No food after 9 pm.

    The night they arrived, at 20:30 (8 pm), tired and hungry, from a long flight, they asked about the restaurants in the hotel. “Yes,” they were told, “There are two. One in the Spa, where you have to go in your robes, without your bathing suit, and one next to the reception.” So, they hurried upstairs, changed out of their clothes and came downstairs half an hour later, only to hear –

    “Oh, the kitchen is closed from 9 pm.”

    Luckily, they had rented a car, so they went to the de Veranda, nearby, where the kitchen was happy to feed them big juicy steaks.

  2. No food before 12 noon – or Breakfast is served in one place only.

    Next morning, we joined our friends at 9:15, as they had booked the massages at 10 a.m. But they hadn’t had their breakfast yet. Again, they asked at the reception, can we eat breakfast at the restaurant in the spa? Yes, was the response. We hurried into the spa, up the stairs to the changing rooms, deposited our stuff in the lockers, down the stairs to the spa, where the restaurant is, and went in. It was cold and empty.

    “Oh, you’re guests at the hotel?” asked the man who greeted us. “Then your breakfast is up in the hotel, next to the reception. We only open up at noon.”

  3. Massages cannot be moved.

    As it was 9:42 by this time, (don’t forget, our massages were booked for 10:00), we stopped by the Beauty section on our run up to the hotel. My friend asked if she could move the massages to a later hour. “No,” was the reply. Eventually, they were able to move one of the massages to 10:30, after much persuasion. Thank you! By the way, I had a massage from a very nice guy, who did a superb job and we also had a really interesting talk about life and living in the Netherlands. (See, I do know how to give credit where credit is due!)

  4. Once in the Spa, you can’t get out.

    To get to the restaurant area, next to the reception, (remember, we had only a few minutes to eat!), we had to leave the spa area. But our automatic black bands that record our food purchases etc, and open most doors, did not open that door. There was a really long line at the reception, and you know the RULE: First person in line gets served first, no matter what. We waited impatiently for a couple of seconds, then had to rudely ask them to please open the gate, so we could get our breakfast.

  5. Towels are obligatory – also on bathing suit day – except where they aren’t.

    Some of the saunas are wet, the steambath, the hamam, etc. In those, you don’t need a towel, naturally, as that would get soaked. And we went from one sauna to the next, some wet, some not, wearing our bathing suits. However, we were relaxing in one of the dryer saunas when an employee, fully dressed, equipped with walkie talkie, came in and told us loudly, “You MUST use a towel here, in ALL of the saunas.” Feeling like very naughty kids, we ran off to get our towels.

  6. Phones are absolutely not allowed.

    Now, you saw the rules webpage, just as I did. It’s empty. But there is a long list – in beautiful Dutch, that I happened to see as we left, with at least 12 rules on it. And apparently, and this does make sense, use of mobile phones is not allowed. So, we were sitting outside, having a coffee, in the sunshine, near the pool, when my friend, who is a businessman, took his phone out of his pocket, holding it under the table and very discreetly sent a quick message to his business partner who needed an urgent answer. He didn’t make a phone call. He didn’t have his phone on the table. No one but the “big brother” waiter saw him. The waiter zoomed in and hunching over him, said, in a scolding schoolteacher tone, “Phones are absolutely not allowed here. I have to ask you to take it right now to your locker.”

  7. Lost is not found.

    I’m sure you know how it is when you lose something you love or need in a hotel. It’s so frustrating, and so easy to do. You have to pack up quickly, (Yes, they also weren’t told when making the booking for the spa that they would have to pack up their stuff first and store it before going in the spa…). Anyway, they managed to forget something in the room as they rushed up at 11:00 to pack up their stuff just after their massage. And when I called the hotel for them, today, to ask if it had been found by housekeeping – nope. No apology. It’s just not there.

  8.  Customer is not king.

    By the way, my friends are not kids. He’s a 56 year old man who runs several businesses and is a world champion sailor as well, traveling with his wife, who is also partner in their hospitality business.  A respected person, a person who travels all over the world, and who, if he had liked his experience at Spa Zuiver, might have come here again.

How to make it better?

One of my jobs is teaching business students how to give good customer service. I teach them these three simple rules:

  1. Customer is king.
    But, they often say, what if he’s wrong? Yes, but what if he is wrong, I answer. Don’t you still want him to return? Have you heard of lifetime equity?
  2. An apology is worth gold.
    But I didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just ‘our policy’ or ‘we ran out of that particular item,’ they tell me. Yes, well, you can still be sorry about it. That will go a LONG way towards trying to make the customer feel valued. And if they are valued, they will probably forgive your mistake.
  3. Make it up to them. Offer compensation.
    In addition to an apology, a little package of the Rituals items used at the spa or even ‘Here let me give you these bottles of free water for your trip’ would have been nice, after all the many things that went wrong. After all, they did leave a few hundred Euro at this Hotel and Spa. They should be considered valued customers.

A – Z challenge: C is for Communication

letter in dutch copy

Do all Americans speak Dutch?

Suppose you had reserved a night at an exclusive hotel abroad, and you lived in Miami, USA.  When the hotel sends back the confirmation letter, what language would you expect it to be in? (Let’s assume that your reservation email had been in English, since you don’t speak Dutch.)

My friends, who made a reservation at the exclusive Spa Zuiver, just sent me this email, because they, of course, could not make heads or tails of the letter. Ironically, they themselves run a very successful hospitality business of their own.

Customer Service = Communication

“I just live here,” I want to tell my friends, and although I’ve been trying exceedingly hard to work on the level of customer service in this country, there’s only so much I can do. It’s exceedingly frustrating to me that here, in this very modern and tourist oriented country, an international tourist can’t get a confirmation email from a world class hotel in English. I considered what to do, (since although I am working on ‘acceptance’ in my life, there are still times where I think I really must take action).

My options: Call Spa Zuiver, send them an email to let them know what I think of how they’ve treated my friends, or write this blog.

  • I did call, but got a very long and confusing voice mail system that told me (at 20:30, while the spa is open until 22:30), that there was no one at the Spa who could take my call.
  • Send an email? I thought – hmmm. Is it my business to tell them how to run their business?
  • So, in the end, I decided to write this blog, and I really hope that Spa Zuiver will take notice.


I love this Spa, and I visit it when I can. But please, dear Spa Zuiver people, ask your staff to write confirmation letters in ENGLISH when they are sent to people who live abroad.

Lo entiendes?

A – Z challenge: B is for Bananas (day 2)

Photo by Tevei Renvoyé on Unsplash

“Voulez vous des bananes?” asked a wiry built darkly tanned man with very little clothes on, as he jumped out of the bush in front of us, on the dirt path. We stopped, and he stepped forward, offering his hand to my parents. “Je suis Etienne,” he said.

I didn’t know much French at the time, but after 30 days at sea, with no fresh fruit, a banana sounded wonderful. My parents nodded in consent, and within a few minutes, Etienne had returned, not with a banana, nor one for each of us, but with a whole bunch of bananas. We’d never seen so many in our lives, having lived the comfortable life of supermarkets in Los Angeles, where each banana was perfectly formed, and came with a Chiquita sticker on it.

This bunch, with stubby yellowing and green bananas, some ripe, some still hard, was hard to carry back to the boat, but my dad did so, inviting Etienne back to join us for a drink and snacks. My dad strung the bananas up on one of the spreaders, and as we sunk our teeth into the soft, sweet fruit, I swore to learn some French so I could thank Etienne (and get more of these fresh bananas). My parents gave him some goodies in return for the bananas, and he became our fast friend, on that first island, Nuka Hiva, that we visited in the Marquesas.

nuka hiva map
13 hours flight, or 30 days by sailboat!

Do you have a banana story to share? Feel free to share below! 

3 Ways to encourage my writing or Who’s up for an A – Z challenge? The Letter A!

A is for Audrey

audrey in Tahiti
Me (California girl) in Tahiti with my sister and a Tahitian family

Audrey is the name my parents gave me – which makes me think of Lady Bird – the movie, where the girl renames herself as an act of rebellion, only to think about it differently as she gets a little bit of perspective.

As for me, I am actually called Gail Audrey – but even my parents NEVER used the name Gail. It was given as a sign of respect to my departed grandmother – Gertrude. Speaking of whom, I had hardly heard anything about this grandmother of mine, until a few years ago when my father told me how much he had cried when she died, too young, while he was still at university. And how he felt almost ashamed to be in such grief. ‘Men must be men,’ was the message in his family. His father had already lost a previous wife. His brother had lost a mother. They were hardened, and he should have been too. I rarely see my father’s vulnerable side. He has covered it up with rational logic, with scientific understanding, with innovation, with control over what he could control.

And Audrey too, she hides behind her second name, her middle name. She has a secret first name that no one (but my faithful blog readers and a few others) know of. Audrey has suited her well. Beginning with the first letter of the alphabet, a first child, an independent woman, in old Shakespearean English, Audrey means noble, which Audrey has always wanted to be, but never felt quite there. What does it mean to be noble, anyway? Proud and arrogant, or is it being born in the right place at the right time? Is it a state of mind? Wait – dear Google – what does it mean to be noble?

Noble: having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles.
“the promotion of human rights was a noble aspiration”

Aha, so perhaps I do have some nobility in me after all. I do my best, at least. I feel this blog is meandering. Where is the story, you might ask?

Once upon a time, in a state called California, there was a girl named Audrey. She grew up thinking she was very different from many of her classmates, just because she loved to daydream, and read books. She was a bit of a tom-boy too!

One day, her parents took her out of school and sailed around the world with her. Now she knew she was different. But at least now she had a reason; she was a ‘boat girl.’

In high school, she wore a t-shirt from Tahiti, an island she had visited a few years earlier. But Tahiti sounds similar to the word in Hebrew (she now lived in Israel), ‘ta-i-ti’ – which means “I made a mistake.” Audrey made lots of mistakes, because apart from being an unusual person, who had only her own moral compass to travel by, she also had lived outside of peer society for a few years. Then she moved to a new country where she was definitely a fish out of water. In high school it’s hard enough to fit in even in your own culture. She was a friendly, outgoing person, but still, on the edge of the group. She wasn’t really a group person, after all.

And eventually, Audrey grew up, married, had kids – the great equalizer – moved to yet another country, got divorced, got remarried – and now she is a unique being at a time in her life when it’s okay to be different. Not too different, though, after all, the Dutch do like you to fit in. After a certain age, and with a certain amount of internal strength and resilience, Audrey is finally learning that she is fine just as she is.

And that’s our first letter of the alphabet challenge (which I just discovered was an April Challenge, but, so what? I like to be different, right?)